Who doesn’t want to be told to stop their fussing and learn to do things half-ass? As a mom, this was one of my earliest achievements: the art of missing the mark of perfection on almost everything.
Only kid’s first birthday party? Halfassed it by having my aunt pick up store-bought dip and guacamole, served in plastic containers. Had mom buy a cake she only had to point to through a glass case. Oh, and don’t ask how tall the weeds were in my yard that sunny afternoon either. (They were tall.)
You see, I learned that in order to feed myself and maintain enough personal hygiene so as not to offend the neighbors whom I might run into during morning strolls, I had to halfass it – and then some. My girlfriends have told me they did not learn this art until baby number two came along. Thankfully, I was enough of a stressed-out mess to “get it” with number one and only.
For so much of our lives, the term half-ass has had such negative connotations, has it not? I know this is true for me. Until one lovely day, I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s self-help book, Big Magic, in which she uses the word to describe her way of approaching creative endeavors such as writing. The gist is: why wait until your writing is perfect to stick your neck out there and try to get published already? (Take me, for example.) We won’t ever get anywhere if we are waiting until the day we’ve perfected our craft to begin, Gilbert suggests.
Since reading her perspective, I have come to realize that “halfassing it” has been my modus operandi for, I don’t know…..forever? So in glorious appreciation and in wanting to share my own tiny crumbs of halfassing knowledge, I’ve put together a brief list of steps, and I mean brief. (Halfassing it, remember?)
Step One: Housework – Cut that shit out.
As I am typing these words, I have two completely full, overflowing baskets of clean laundry outside my bedroom door. When I say overflowing, I mean stray socks and intimates are littered around each basket like confetti. I mean shirt sleeves are hanging over the edges, like cadavers stuffed into getaway car trunks.
Anyhoo, the point is: you have got to chill on the housework, mamas. I don’t care if you’re a brand new Mom with breast milk stains on your everything or are a midlife Mother, like me, with a job and a small pirate attacking your legs while you pour bleach into the washing machine. You have got to cut that shit out and relax. Those clothes can wait to be folded.
In addition, learn the art of “gentle” cleaning. You know, cleaning only the dirtiest bathroom sink scum or wiping the dampest of sponges across those coffee mug stains on the counter. Save the rubber-glove-cleaning for days when your partner is home. And if he/she is not around much during the week, politely hand him/her the Clorox while you go back to your own sassy, halfassing-it self.
Step Two: Entertaining – Cut that shit out.
Listen, fellow perfectionists, I know you want to keep up with them Joneses, as the saying goes. You may not do this. Period. You cannot host elaborate dinner parties or have Martha Stewart-style birthday parties for your tiny children. Cancel your Pinterest account if you must. Do anything. But just cut that shit out.
Unless, dear woman, you are wiling to embrace the half-ass method to entertaining, which entails picking up a Costco pizza and premade finger sandwiches. It means, even if you’re an environmentalist, throwing eco-sound practices out the window for a goddamn evening. Pick up those paper plates or those ghastly 24-packs of water bottles. Just for a night. Come on. Halfass it, or forget it.
Step Three: Wabi Sabi – The real shit.
Now, future halfassers, we are going to talk ancient wisdom for a minute. So what is “wabi sabi,” you ask? Robin Griggs Lawrence from Utne Reader defines wabi sabi as:
“…everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly” (para 3).
If there were ever a better reason to embrace the halfassing it approach, it’s that you are embracing Japanese aesthetics. Or in American terms, you are getting your Zen on, girl.
Some old macaroni smelling up the fridge? Wabi sabi.
Serving tea from a broken pot? Wabi sabi.
Tiny crayon pieces smashed into the rug? Wabi sabi.
But seriously now, there is so much beauty, richness, and authenticity in imperfection. In the dirty corners of our lives. What we consider the chaos of life is just a reminder that our lives are actually messy and often quite mundane. The gritty shit is proof that we are living.
Maybe we can learn to see the unswept areas of our mental and physical closets as art (don’t laugh), as glorious reminders that our attention is perhaps better spent on matters of more significance. We can learn to view the dust in the room as proof of the wonderful act of living and the constant shedding this entails. If nothing else, I am confident this is the way to halfass our way to happiness.
About the author: Elizabeth Newdom teaches writing and literature courses at a community college in Frederick, MD. Her husband and young son put up with dirty dishes so she can spend time on the written word. Elizabeth has published essays on Sweatpants and Coffee and writes weekly for her personal blog: https://elizabethnewdom.wordpress.com/.